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Bolo Coffee Club is a tribute to the HK cha chaan teng—with a Poblacion twist

Bolo Coffee Club is a tribute to the HK cha chaan teng—with a Poblacion twist

  • Bolo Coffee Club’s neon lights are what bring people through the door, but the warm atmosphere and brilliant fare is why they stay

A large window filled with warm light and an unmissable neon sign are the two most recent changes on Don Pedro Street in Poblacion. These are the two elements that lure people through the doors of the newly opened Bolo Coffee Club. But all things considered, that’s not necessarily why they stay.

Bolo—unrelated to the weapon used by many of our forefathers—is actually named after the cafe’s namesake pastry: the bolo bao. The bolo bao, also known as a pineapple bun (only named after the fruit due to the crisscross pattern on top), is a crusty, sweet pastry native to Hong Kong.

No pineapples here, just a slab of butter and some crunchy, rich goodness

It’s typically found on the menus and display cases of cha chaan tengs or Hong Kongese diners that serve coffee, tea, and light meals. 

Unlike typical cha chaan tengs that are decorated simply with homely touches (think amah’s house) and typical Chinese decor, Bolo does things differently. 

Hong Kong, right at home in Poblacion

The most succinct way to describe the cafe’s interior is like walking into an idealized version of Hong Kong. Early 2000s Hong Kong neon signs and printed versions of handmade posters from the mid-20th century decorate the space, making it feel a little like the set from Wong Kar Wai’s “Fallen Angels.” 

The walls are decked out in a deep shade of green with a red, glowing neon sign on the wall that serves as its main lightsource when the sun sets. 

Bolo Coffee Club’s bar area
Various reprints of hand-drawn posters from mid-20th century Hong Kong decorate the space

Bolo isn’t the first Hong Kongese concept we’ve seen open its doors in Poblacion—not by miles. But unlike the other Hong Kong-inspired places that took their cue from the city, it’s one of the few that get all the little details right.  

For true Hong Kongers or people who frequent the city, you can see the amount of thought and care its proprietors put into the cafe. Aside from the rich green paint, you can also see retro-style vintage tiles adorn the walls which are typically still found in older establishments. 

The cafe’s space boasts a comfortable couch and outlets everywhere

The cups and saucers are also the same kinds used in cha chaan tengs, which is a detail those in the know will appreciate. 

All these little details were carefully curated by the brilliant minds behind the cafe who grew up in both Hong Kong and the Philippines. Angela Escudero, Joash Guevara, and Simoun Mendoza are the proprietors of the cafe. 

While all of them are Filipino (with Escudero being a Poblacion native since childhood), Guevara and Mendoza—along with their beverage consultant Tim Yap—spent a bulk of their early years and professional lives in Hong Kong. 

To them, the cafe is the meeting point of both places called home. And home is always where the heart—and great food—is. 

Eat more baos

As its name suggests, the cafe’s main draw is its namesake: the bolo bao. The rich, flaky, sweet pastry is usually served with a slab of butter right in the middle and a strong cup of coffee or HK-style milk tea to go with it. 

Clockwise from left to right: Bolo bao with butter (the right way to have it), HK-style milk tea, and spicy chicken floss bun

It’s deliciously rich with just the right amount of crunch and sweetness. The exterior is toasted to give extra texture to its exterior, while the interior stays moist and tender, thanks to the slab of butter they place inside. 

Aside from the bolo, there are five other classic HK baos on the menu: the ham and cheese roll, pork floss bun, spicy chicken floss bun, bacon cheese bun, and the sausage bread. 

From left to right: bacon cheese bun, sausage bread, ham and cheese roll, spicy chicken floss bun, pork floss bun, and bolo bao

What makes their floss buns different is that the floss isn’t only on top, it’s also inside. Traditionally, floss is just a topping, but the folks at the cafe wanted it to be the flossiest bun it could be, so skimping was out of the question. 

All the pastries at Bolo are stunners sure to delight, but the unsung hero has to be the ham and cheese roll. It’s a staple HK snack, but its unassuming presentation doesn’t attract the attention it deserves. 

The ham and cheese roll is as close to familiar comfort food as it gets. Succulent ham and a generous log of cheese are ensconced in a pillowy blanket of bread and baked to perfection. The roll must be consumed toasted to give it a light crackle on the outside. 

It’s one of the heartier items on the menu, and deserves just as much attention as the more outwardly beautiful baos. 

Coffees, teas, cocktails, and beers in bowls 

True to its cafe nature, Bolo serves a comprehensive menu of uniquely Hong Kong drinks, as well as classic coffees. Not to mention craft cocktails and iconic Tsingtao beers served in ornately decorated bowls. 

The drinks that truly shine, though, are the ones that take inspiration from its cha chaan teng roots and transform it to something that’ll make an impression on the Poblacion crowd. 

Clockwise from left to right: yuen yeung, Ovaltine mocha, and HK-style milk tea served in the classic Black and White cup and saucer

Hong Kong is Ovaltine country. Unlike most of us who grew up with Milo as the malted chocolate drink of choice, Ovaltine had found its way into almost every Hong Kong household—as well as Bolo’s drink menu. 

Their Ovaltine mocha is a tribute to the classic HK drink that mixes the malted beverage with a caffeine hit. While I no longer personally drink coffee, the drink got a thumbs up and a happy hum from Nolisoli’s managing editor Pauline Miranda and our photographer and videographer Samantha Ong. 

Another classic HK-style coffee drink, the yuen yeung, has also made its way into the menu. The drink is a mix of brewed coffee and black tea, but the Bolo version uses jasmine tea for a more floral flavor. 

Aside from enjoying baos and drinks, people can also play a friendly game of chess at the cafe

For non-coffee people (like myself), the cafe also serves an excellent assortment of iced teas, hot teas, coffee-free drinks, and the iconic Hong Kong-style milk tea. 

If the type of milk tea you’re used to is the one served in plastic cups with all the toppings you can get, Hong Kong’s version of the drink will be sure to surprise you. HK milk tea is known for being strong—strong enough to wake the dead—and Bolo nailed it. 

Every cafe in Hong Kong has their own recipe, and it’s usually a closely guarded secret. I’ve had the pleasure of trying Bolo’s version from when they first opened and the one they currently serve, and I’m pleased to say it does the drink justice. 

Tea leaves are steeped and strained to give the strongest possible flavor for the HK milk tea

Bolo’s HK milk tea is a very strongly brewed cup of tea served with Black and White evaporated milk. The drink is aerated by pouring from one vessel to another, which makes the tea stronger and gives it a silkier texture. 

The milk tea is then served in the iconic Black and White Milk cup (a staple evaporated drink in Hong Kong), with simple syrup on the side. 

As for the cocktails, the two most unique items on its menu are the Dragon Eye and the Wild Rabbit. The Dragon Eye is a gin-based cocktail made with lychee syrup and garnished with mint. It’s a refreshing, sweet drink that’ll fool you into thinking you’re good for a few more. 

From left to right: dragon eye, Tsingtao beer, and wild rabbit

The Wild Rabbit is a drink based on the popular candy, White Rabbit. It’s a white cocktail made with a concoction of different spirits and a concentrate made from our beloved childhood sweet. It’s a richer and creamier drink, and another cocktail to add to traitor status. 

Building a community around the good stuff 

While Bolo’s Wong Kar Wai-reminiscent aesthetics, extensive drink menu, and delicious baos make up the bulk of the reason people come to visit, it’s not the only reason they keep coming back. 

It’s the people. 

A community of regulars have quickly come together, thanks to Bolo’s warm and inviting atmosphere

The partners behind Bolo have created a warm, cozy environment conducive to making new friends over a spread of delicious food and drinks. Making new friends as an adult is hard, but the open and welcoming atmosphere of Bolo makes it easy as pie (or bao, in this case) to strike up a conversation with the cool looking folks at the table next to yours. 

So the next time you’re in Poblacion, lift your head and check for that wide window and those bright neon lights while you’re walking down the street and take a load off inside. It’s a beautiful place filled with warm people, and most of all, scrumptious baos. 

Bolo Coffee Club is located at Unit 201 General Luna Bldg., Don Pedro St., Brgy. Poblacion, Makati. The cafe is open from Sunday to Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Friday to Saturday from 7:30 a.m. until late.

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